POSTSCRIPT / May 20, 2004 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How to fill 2 looming vacancies in the Senate?

NOLI & PING: While we voted for 12 senators last May 10, we might actually need 14 incoming senators by the time the new elected officials take their posts in June.

A vacancy will open in the incoming Senate in the likelihood that Sen. Noli de Castro is elected vice president and decides to leave the legislature to position himself a breath away from the presidency.

There would be a second vacancy if Sen. Panfilo Lacson makes good his promise to quit the Senate if he gets less than 3 million votes in the presidential election. As of noon yesterday, he had only 1,392,295 in the Namfrel count.

What to do?

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NUMBERS GAME: With the transfer of the late Sen. Blas F. Ople to the Executive (foreign office) and the untimely demise of Sen. Renato Cayetano, there are actually only 22 members left in the Senate. But that will not be a problem since a new batch of 12 will come in shortly.

Then if De Castro leaves and Lacson quits, two new vacancies will crop up in June. With only 22 instead of the regular 24 sitting members, the power play in the chamber will take interesting twists.

Also, the determination of a quorum and a majority will be adjusted accordingly, although the same old rules based on actual membership number will continue to apply.

Until the two possible vacancies are filled, a simple quorum to transact business will be any number above half of the 22 sitting members. Half of 22 is 11, so 12 or any number above that will constitute a quorum. (This assumes Lacson would bow out.)

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SPECIAL ELECTION: How are the vacancies in the Senate, if they do occur, to be filled?

Can we just allow the senatorial candidates who take the 13th and the 14th slots in the ongoing canvassing of the votes to fill the vacancies? No, we cannot do that.

The Constitution is explicit in Article VI, whose Section 9 says: “In case of vacancy in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, a special election may be called to fill such vacancy in the manner prescribed by law, but the Senator or Member of the House of Representatives thus elected shall serve only for the unexpired term.”

The lawyers will butt in, surely, to point out that that section merely says “may be called,” which makes it a lame directive.

Maybe the word “may” is providential. This poor country wallowing in debt and deficit cannot afford to call a special election every time a senator or a congressman dies, resigns or is removed for any reason.

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GRINGO KICKING: Something else happened in the case of then Sen. Gregorio Honasan. With the assent of all parties affected, including the Supreme Court, he was sent back to the Senate to fill a vacancy although he landed 13th in the senatorial elections of 2001.

The Gringo went back protesting, insisting that he and not a certain Ralph Recto, the husband of star-for-all-seasons Vilma Santos, should have been in the hot slot No 12 entitled to a full six-year term.

Honasan grudgingly took the seat and served the unexpired three years remaining in the term of Sen. Teofisto Guingona who had been shunted to the Executive.

If you have been attentive, you will remember that Guingona was appointed vice president when then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president upon the controversial exit of then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

That shuffle was quite complicated and controversial, but that is how we manage to keep our politics interesting.

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VOTE REQUIREMENTS: Now back to the Senate, where Senate President Franklin Drilon, we heard, has been losing weight digging in to defend his turf against Sen. Manuel Villar who looks poised to use the Senate to attempt a grab for the presidency in 2010.

To pass or approve regular items on the Senate agenda requires a simple majority, which is any number above half of the number of senators present after a quorum is determined.

But for extraordinary actions, such as the ratification of a treaty or the overriding of a presidential veto, a number of votes greater than a simple majority are needed

We gathered below for your quick reference various constitutional provisions specifying the numbers needed for special action of Congress.

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BIGGER CHORES: To begin with, we cite Section 16 (2) of Article VI pertaining to the Legislature which says: “A majority of each House shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day and may compel the attendance of absent Members in such manner, and under such penalties, as such House may provide.”

For the bigger assignments, here are the numbers rules under Article VI:

  1. Declaring a State of War —“Section 23. (1) The Congress, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.”
  2. Overriding a Veto —“Section 27. (1) Every bill passed by the Congress shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the President. If he approves the same he shall sign it; otherwise, he shall veto it and return the same with his objections to the House where it originated, which shall enter the objections at large in its Journal and proceed to reconsider it. If, after such reconsideration, two-thirds of all the Members of such House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two-thirds of all the Members of that House, it shall become a law.”

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OTHER SITUATIONS: Other legislative acts requiring a bigger number of votes:

  1. To Amend the Constitution —Article XVII (Amendments and Revisions) says:“Section 1: Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.” (The alternative process is to convene a Constitutional Convention.)
  2. To call a Constitutional Convention — “Section 3. The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”
  3. To Ratify Treaties under Article XVIII (Transitory Provisions) —“Section 4. All existing treaties or international agreements which have not been ratified shall not be renewed or extended without the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.”

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TRY MANILAMAIL: We have been receiving complaints from readers that they could not find old articles using the Archive facility of our PhilSTAR website.

Other readers who had found some articles worth sharing with friends said they were stumped by an error message that popped up when they tried the “Send to a Friend” option of the same site.

Rather than see readers going around in circles, or getting disgusted, we suggest that if it is an old Postscript they want to retrieve or one of our columns they want to forward, they can go to our website

We expect them to have an easier time using our ManilaMail site, including its facility for Archive and Search. Happy browsing!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 20, 2004)

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